Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My 2008 Movie Odyssey - Part XIV

Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party (2005)
After watching the trailer, in which actor Stephen Tobolowsky walks the streets, asking random passers by who Stephen Tobolowsky is, I expected an examination of celebrity and a celebration of supporting actors who keep popping up in films but whose names the public can never seem to remember. Instead, what I got was a series of stories told by Stephen Tobolowsky about his life. The stories ranged all over the place, from the time he went swimming with dolphins, to unfortunate encounters with drugs, to interactions with random people on the movie set. He is an accomplished storyteller, but I wish there had been some type of unifying thread to his completely unrelated stories.

Love Crazy (1941)
William Powell and Myrna Loy are a happily married couple until a series of innocent yet unfortunate events causes Myrna Loy's character to question her husband's love for her. What follows is one madcap situation after another, each eliciting more laughter than the previous one. The witty banter here between Powell and Loy is highly reminiscent of Nick and Nora from the Thin Man series, but without those pesky murder mysteries getting in the way of the comedy. It is easily one of my five favorite screwball comedies.

Li’l Abner (1940)
This is another "gem" from my 100 movie packs. It features Buster Keaton in a minor roll as an American Indian who would have the political correctness mafia up in arms if it were made today. While the look of a comic strip is admirably achieved, the story and characters are largely forgettable, especially for those who are not familiar with the Li'l Abner comic strip (like me).

Camelot (1967)
Ever since I received a book of King Arthur stories as a kid, I have been fascinated with the world of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Unfortunately, all the King Arthur movies I have seen so far have been woefully inadequate in telling this epic tale: The Sword in the Stone (1963), while the best of the lot, only told the beginning of the story, Excalibur (1981) was too silly, First Knight (1995) bore little resemblance to the Arthur legends, and King Arthur (2004) was just an awful movie all around. So I was interested to see how the tale would react to getting the musical treatment. Well, the musical numbers were few and far between, and while I am writing this long after seeing the film, none of them were particularly memorable. Also, the large-scale production values I was expecting were surprisingly absent, with remarkably few characters to follow for such a long movie. Where the film does succeed, however, is in the characterizations of Arthur, Guinevere, Mordred, and, to some extent, Lancelot. Camelot presents them as people, each with his or her own sets of doubts, trying to make their mark in the world. Richard Burton's Arthur is particularly compelling as he tries to rule fairly a kingdom that was thrust upon him, trying to create a world in which even the weakest can live in peace. (Note: I do not count Monty Python and the Holy Grail as a King Arthur movie since it is satire, putting it in a separate class.)

National Velvet (1944)
This is a charming story featuring a radiant young Elizabeth Taylor and a fast-running, high-jumping horse. While the story is predictable, and no one in their right mind should name a horse Pie, it is still a classic, feel-good movie.

Coming up next: Her Double Struck Golden Explorers.

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